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Expert educates Shell CEO Voser on oil rig blowouts

Retired Shell International Health and Safety Group Auditor, Bill Campbell responds to our article…Voser claims Shell has nothing to learn from the BP disaster: Is this really true?


When the US oil industry put forward the case to the US president for drilling in deepwater of Louisiana and Florida they are quoted as saying blowouts are rare events.  They were confident they could drill in deepwater safely, they had nothing to learn.

But their argument was entirely flawed because the risks of drilling are the product of the probability of the blowout and the often catastrophic consequences of the blowout.

So if the event is credible, something that can and does happen on a Drilling rig, the Risk may be very high if the consequences are catastrophic and historical data shows that such events often were.

What does history tell us?

Since 1955  and including Deepwater Horizon, there has been 45 notable blowouts causing 92 fatalities with significant loss of assets.

Deepwater Horizon is the only one involving an explosion, you would think Shell would like to understand why?

Of the 45 events 19 resulted in fires, ignition thought to be heat due to friction,  or, open sparking, as high velocity debris came into contact with metal structure of derrick.

Ironically fire can be a blessing as an explosion is far less probable after the initiation of the fire as it consumes the gas being emitted in the blowout stream.

So if the US President had been presented with this data by Shell, BP, Transocean et al including the International Association of Drilling Contractors, and all those other congressmen and senators lobbying for Drill baby Drill then he might have had a more balanced perspective.

So in essence world-wide since 1955 the fatality frequency rate attributed to blowouts was approaching 2 fatalities per annum, and the blowout frequency rate was circa 1 per annum.

But no doubt Shell knew that but what’s the point of spoiling a good story.

Gulf of Mexico – or Shell’s backyard

Since 1979 in the 22 year period to 2001 there were 5 blowouts with 5 fatalities

Now Shell, as I understand it, do not own or operate any Drilling Rigs, it’s so long ago, but can people remember Stadrill?

So Shell will have to hire its rigs, probably from Trancocean or ENSCO, the largest Drilling Contractors in the World, or so it is reported.  Now if their hired rig has a blowout, with deaths and environmental pollution on a grand scale, they are tied in knots by the US offshore pollution Act.

This Act after the fact makes Shell responsible for cleaning up the mess despite the fact that the Drill rig owner and operator may be found criminally negligent – now Mr Voser no doubt knows that but do the RDS shareholders and financial investors.

An example of American Drill Rig Standards

In 2001 the ENSCO 51 had a blowout in the Gulf.

Below is an extract of a confidential report sent to the Directors of Woodside Energy who were using Ensco 56, hired through Apache to drill a well in close proximity to the offshore installation Ocean Legend, in the Legendre field, offshore West Australia.  The vessel was subject to an HSE-MS Audit led by an SIEP. Auditor.

Status of ENSCO 56  (note to WEL Directors from SIEP lead Auditor)

Only so much can be committed to paper, but during the close out of the audit, the detail and thought processes that made the team reach these findings were conveyed to the audience present at that presentation on 9th February.  A record of this closing presentation is held by SIEP, and can be provided to you.

Vessel Inspection – a sample

  • all module doors isolating the working deck hazardous areas from the lower deck non hazardous areas deck were constantly left open.  OIM was aware of this, ” they would be shut during drilling”
  • all combustible (methane) and toxic (H2S) gas detectors in the shale shaker were inhibited/missing waiting re-installation – OIM was not aware of this, when informed he did not appear concerned, it was the rig electricians ballpark
  • Smoke detectors in accommodation permanently disabled – policy was no smoking in cabins and to permit violation of this policy smoke head alarm loops were disabled
  • Strong sweet smell in some of the cabins

Drug Abuse Allegations/Evidence

Two crew members ‘in confidence’ alleged smoking of cannabis resin etc in cabins, OIM and Supervisors cabins on one of isolated loops of the smoke detection system.  Situation notified to Apache Energy, who had contracted vessel, Apache Managers went to vessel, OIM dismissed a few days later



Mr Voser and Shell it appears has nothing to learn. That is before any detailed investigation has started in earnest a probably 6 months before findings are reached – but Mr Voser and Shell have nothing to learn.

Neither, after Piper Alpha, where the loss of 167 men revolutionised the Western European approach to offshore safety, and where the Safety Case approach was adopted world-wide, did it appear that the US have anything to learn.

The US oil industry dismissed all this socialist pinko stuff in the UK, Safety Cases, Regulators who could shut you down etc as typical British overreaction, in anyway it would cost too much.

And in any case, the US offshore Oil Industry said, we have nothing to learn.

Bill Campbell B.Sc. MIET. C.Eng.

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